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The influence of mistletoes on the litter-layer arthropod abundance and diversity in a semi-arid savanna, Southwest Zimbabwe

Abstract

Aims

The below-canopy soil moisture content and litter-layer arthropod abundance and diversity of Acacia karroo trees parasitized by each of three mistletoe species (Erianthemum ngamicum, Plicosepalus kalachariensis, and Viscum verrucosum) and uninfected A. karroo trees were investigated in semi-arid savanna, southwest Zimbabwe.

Results

The soils below the canopies of mistletoe-infected trees were significantly low in moisture content compared to those beneath uninfected A. karroo trees. Nevertheless, arthropod species diversity was greater by up to 34 % below the canopies of mistletoe-infected trees than beneath uninfected A. karroo trees, with greater abundances beneath trees infected by E. ngamicum and P. kalachariensis. In addition, the majority of the arthropod species associated with mistletoe-infected trees had litter as their dominant foraging substrate.

Conclusions

Our findings show that mistletoes increase the abundance and diversity of litter-dwelling and –foraging arthropods due to increase in the quality and quantity of litterfall beneath mistletoe-infected trees. By altering the below-canopy arthropod communities and soil moisture content, mistletoes have potential to modify ecosystem processes such as decomposition, soil process rates, and nutrient cycling. Therefore, we suggest that the resulting increase in resource heterogeneity plays an important role in determining the structure and functioning of semi-arid savanna ecosystems.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a grant from the National University of Science and Technology Research Board (Grant RB/11/10). We are grateful to the people who assisted with fieldwork, particularly Alford Magwizi, Kudzanai Dhliwayo, and Obey Sonono. Laboratory work was carried out at the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe, and were are grateful to the Department of Entomology specifically, Kudzai Mafuwe and staff. We also thank David M Watson and another anonymous reviewer for their time and effort that allowed us to increase the clarity and quality of our work.

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Correspondence to Hilton G. T. Ndagurwa.

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Ndagurwa, H.G.T., Dube, J.S., Mlambo, D. et al. The influence of mistletoes on the litter-layer arthropod abundance and diversity in a semi-arid savanna, Southwest Zimbabwe. Plant Soil 383, 291–299 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-014-2176-8

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Keywords

  • Africa
  • Arthropod
  • Community
  • Diversity
  • Mistletoe
  • Savanna